Like a lot of teenage girls, Sandra Aitken has a big crush on the popular English-Irish boy band One Direction.
“I like the way they sing and look and their accents,” she said. “I stalk them on YouTube.”
Earlier this month, the Archbishop Ryan High School senior got a chance to see the boy band from a prime seat at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. All it took to win “The Golden Ticket” was for her to send more than 800 tweets over five days about the lads in the band.
As any teenage girl will tell you, One Direction is a music sensation right now, best known for its big hit single What Makes You Beautiful. The band has sold more than 15 million albums, singles and videos. Billboard named One Direction the Top New Artist for 2012 and MTV placed the band on its Best Artists of 2012 list. On Craigslist.org, tickets to their Philadelphia concert in June are being offered for $600 a seat.
Sandra, 17, has been a big fan since the band started to make it big about two years ago. On Nov. 15, she learned of a Pepsi-sponsored contest called “Bring Me to 1D.” Beginning that day and running until Nov. 20, participants were asked to use their Twitter accounts to tweet unique, original, creative and relevant comments about One Direction.
The grand prize? Tickets for the five-member pop band’s Dec. 3 concert at Madison Square Garden. The next day, the lucky fan would attend a meet-and-greet session with the band members.
Once Sandra learned about the prize, she was “all in.”
“I was obsessed with tweeting,” she said.
Sandra didn’t tweet while working as a hostess at Friendly’s, but did fire off messages most of the rest of her waking moments, including at the movies, and during lunch, in computer class and study hall at Ryan.
In all, she sent more than 800 tweets, including some with pictures, during the course of the contest. Her teachers and classmates were generally supportive, but not everyone was amused.
“Some people started un-following me and telling me I wasn’t going to win,” she said.
But it was the judges who would have the final say. They pored over the tweets of some 33,000 people and announced the winner on Nov. 27. Sandra, a Somerton resident, checked her e-mail that day in computer class and saw a note from contest officials that she was the winner. At first, she thought it was a scam, but once she confirmed the e-mail was for real, the celebration was on.
“I was screaming,” she recalled.
She was crying by the time she called to tell her mom, Roseanne. The teen was entitled to bring a chaperone and a guest. She chose her mom and her cousin Lauren Aitken, a 17-year-old junior at Downingtown East High School.
There were 50 winners worldwide, including 10 in the United States. The other Americans won contests held on radio stations and the Ellen DeGeneres television show.
Everyone stayed at a North Jersey hotel. They were given a One Direction goodie bag and posed next to individual cardboard cutouts of the guys.
“It was like a gigantic convention with winners from all over the world,” Sandra said. “It was really cool that everyone was all together.”
The fans, all of whom clutched their “Golden Tickets,” were given VIP treatment. Before the concert, they listened to a sound check by opening act Ed Sheeran. They had seats on the Madison Square Garden floor, near the catwalk and main stage and close to the smoke, fire, confetti, lights and videos that were part of the show. Sandra waved an American flag, while the others waved the flags of their countries.
“To have seats like that at Madison Square Garden was amazing,” she said. “They were singing right to us.”
The next day promised to be just as good, if not better.
“I couldn’t sleep that night,” Sandra said.
The fans and their guests took a tour of New York City along the Hudson River before “The Boys,” as Sandra affectionately calls them, met them at a nearby marina club, with security guards everywhere.
The band consists of Harry Styles, 18; Niall Horan, Zayn Malik and Liam Payne, all 19; and Louis Tomlinson, 21. Niall is an Irishman. The others are Brits. Harry is Sandra’s favorite, and Taylor Swift’s favorite, too. The two are dating. Harry and Taylor, not Harry and Sandra.
Morgan Spurlock is directing a 3-D movie on the band so the meet-and-greet was captured on film. The winners watched a music video of the band’s song Kiss You that won’t be released until January. Niall played acoustic guitar while the boys performed three songs, including What Makes You Beautiful.
The boys signed a copy of their latest CD, Take Me Home, and gave Sandra and a couple of other winners a group hug.
“We called it a 1D sandwich,” she said.
The fans submitted questions on postcards, and two questions submitted by Sandra and Lauren were chosen: Do you like the Beatles? What do you find cute in a girl?
Harry spoke for the boys when he said they like the Beatles. And they all agreed that they liked pretty eyes and a smile on a girl.
“Harry told me I have beautiful eyes,” said Sandra, who blushed and smiled back at him.
Sandra can relive her two days of joy by watching videos on YouTube and vevo.com
The teen was happy to see that the boys seemed down to earth and approachable.
“It was such a great experience. I felt like I was in New York for a week,” she said.
The boys competed individually on the 2010 season of the British version of the TV singing competition show The X Factor. The judges suggested that they team up to have a better chance to win. As a group, they finished third. Soon after, Simon Cowell — the former tell-it-like-it-is judge from American Idol — signed them to a record deal.
The boys sang What Makes You Beautiful at the closing ceremonies of the Summer Olympics in London and have played in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II. A few weeks ago, they were featured on Barbara Walters’ Most Fascinating People of 2012 show.
This British invasion will continue with a world tour in February, and the band will be at the Wells Fargo Center on June 25. Sandra will see them in concert in July in Hershey.
Roseanne Aitken has taken her daughter to see her favorite singer, Peter Frampton, in concert multiple times. Mom was glad to see her daughter get a chance to see her favorite band, up close and personal.
“I’m so happy for her having this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she said. ••
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or firstname.lastname@example.org